Albums of the Week: March 19 - March 25 Beck, Truckers, Liars

JamBase Albums of the Week | March 19-March 25, 2010

Dennis' Pick of the Week
Shooter Jennings & Hierophant: Black Ribbons (Rocket Science)

This blows in from a future time when "the battery is fading and the light is dying" and "the last breath of free speech will blow itself out," and what takes its place is the "wind of thought control." The groundbreaking, thoroughly cool pairing of Shooter and Stephen King (the voice of Americanized Greek chorus DJ Will O' The Wisp) offers us a dystopian concept album in the vein of Terry Gilliam's Brazil stirred with '70s sci-fi flicks like Logan's Run and Rollerball (plus the synth beds under Wisp's bohemian holy roller "mic breaks" are pure John Carpenter), and the damn thing rocks on top of it! We're all dealing with the fallout of eight years of White House thugs who spit on laws and ideals while convincing (some) folks that torture and abandonment of core principles are fine under some circumstances AND that wearing a flag pin means you're a patriot. Each of us grieves and heals in his or her own way, but Shooter and King have done so in a particularly brilliant, satisfying manner. By envisioning the end game of the "Bush Years" run rampant, they've unleashed hot creative lead that hits every target true (and even slips in a few hearty laughs and idealistic romance to boot). This is COMPLETELY unlike anything Jennings has done previously, and he's all the better for it. The unrestricted reach of this material – spanning bar anthems, punky NYC delights, breezy ballads, Pearl Jam-y angst, psych-funk, Zeppelin-esque pomp and more – and "future" dappled feel of the production and instrument choices usher in a whole new chapter for Jennings, who seems to have found his true voice here, a powerful, insightful outburst entirely free of his father's shadow and the country industry as a whole. Strange, gutsy, defiant and rabblerousing, Black Ribbons (released March 2) might just be a masterpiece – never wise to make such pronouncements in the first month of a record's release. For sure, it's one of the strongest, most inspired albums of 2010, and one that will likely make many people reevaluate Shooter Jennings in a wholly positive way. (Dennis Cook)

Ron's Pick of the Week
Beck and Friends: Oar (Record Club)

On paper, Beck's Record Club series, where he invites a group of famous friends to collaborate with him in the recording of an influential album in a single day, later posted on the club's website, sounds awesome. But the end results of the first two installments, which saw Mr. Hansen get together with such trendy pals as MGMT, Devendra Banhart and Andrew Stockdale (Wolfmother), among others, to tackle The Velvet Underground & Nico and Songs of Leonard Cohen, were beyond unlistenable to the point of painful. Such is not the case for the third club entry, a version of Moby Grape guitarist Alexander "Skip" Spence's 1969 solo masterpiece Oar, long considered one of the most storied outsider rock LPs of all time, particularly given its back story of being crafted during Spence's fabled six-month stint at New York's notorious Bellevue Hospital. Bringing together an ace lineup this time around - Warp Records soulman Jamie Lidell, the entire current lineup of Wilco (including Jeff Tweedy's tween son Spencer on drums), Leslie Feist, longtime producer pal Nigel Godrich and legendary Motown session drummer James Gadson, to name but a few - the way this ragtag team re-imagines Oar with such cohesion and harmony is astounding. Some of the tracks are played faithfully, notably the iconic opening number "Little Hands," the mournful country ballad "Broken Heart," and a great quasi-a capella run through "All Come To Meet Her." Elsewhere, however, songs like "Cripple Creek" and "Weighted Down" are given drastic makeovers, sounding more like outtakes from Odelay than staunch versions of the original Spence performances. But the real mind blowers are "Books of Moses," originally a 2:41 rainy day meditation that's expanded into a seven-odd-minute bump funk throwdown, as well as the album's nine-and-a-half-minute brain-frying closer "Grey/Afro," which gets shortened here by two minutes yet is somehow made into more of an epic freakout than the original (thanks to the top-notch playing from the Wilco boys, who turn in some of their most Teutonic jamming since "Spiders (Kidsmoke)"). The Record Club Oar is the best thing Beck has done since Sea Change. As a longtime fan disillusioned with Hansen's output as of late (with the sole exception of his excellent production work on the new Charlotte Gainsbourg album), the only thing I can do is rest my laurels with the assumption that this creative renaissance will carry over to his next proper solo joint and the Record Club's forthcoming redux of INXS's 1987 pop-gasm Kick, which features Beck alongside St. Vincent, Liars and Os Mutantes. (Ron Hart)

Drive-By Truckers: The Big To-Do (ATO)
Calling something "reliable" can seem a small compliment, but in the case of the Truckers it's actually a massive high-five. The Big To-Do (released March 16) is a juicy affirmation of rock & roll's relevance – a day-to-day conduit for our troubles and dreams that wrestles with our worries and darker thoughts while simultaneously defusing them and uplifting us. It's a tall order, especially if you still want the music go hand-in-hand with beer swilling and sweaty mischief n' dancin'. DBT has it ALL covered on their ninth album. Hard won strength, lack of sentimentality and a lean, sharp edged vibe inform this baker's dozen filled with skinned up revelations, jaded good time girls, bloated corpses, abandonment's dull ache, and stinkin' secrets brought into open air. Some tracks are missives from the road, lingering on the vagabond life, but never slipping into clichés; their lyrics get at what calls one home, what centers a life, even as a fresh breeze beckons one to take the highway again. The playing, arrangements and production are completely on-point; this band is just SO together, so beautifully overlapping and thunderous and goddamn enjoyable right now. The recorded debut of now fully integrated keyboardist Jay Gonzalez is a happy revelation filled with accents and muscle that find him keeping up with DBT's massive guitar roar, which rages harder here than they have in a spell. Addictively listenable and easily one of the finest overall sets of their career, The Big To-Do shows, once again, that if one seeks reliably phenomenal, truth-telling, balls-out rock they need look no further than the Drive-By Truckers. (DC)

Autechre: Oversteps (Warp)
Autechre unplugged? Sounds impossible, but on Oversteps (arriving March 23), the celebrated British IDM duo get as close as they've ever have to achieving a natural sound through most unnatural means, while continuing to explore the mellow terrain they touched upon with 2008's brilliant Quaristice. Though these 14 tracks are devised from purely synthetic means and retain the aleatoric element that has been the MO of Sean Booth and Rob Brown for two decades, there is an emotional strand that weaves throughout Oversteps, giving otherwise standard alien Autechre sounds the warm feel of acoustic instrumentation, church organs and tubular chimes atop some of the mellowest beats these guys have crafted yet, especially on "Known (1)," "O=0" and the gorgeous "Krylon." Also of note is album closer "Yuop," which sounds like a vintage John Carpenter film score. People are calling this Booth and Brown's best work to date, and I just might have to agree. (RH)

Liars: Sisterworld (Mute)
Not many bands consistently make one ask, "What is this?" From jump, Sisterworld (released March 9), announces that five albums in Liars still have us guessing as this bold, singular creative entity continues evolving. Part boatman's dirge, part noise explosion, part newfangled spiritual, opener "Scissor" sets things off-kilter (in the best way), quickly followed by the whisper painted, downtempo groove of "No Barrier Fun" (perhaps the score to some fictional, disease free connection?), and the Link Wray-esque guitars, murder mystery strings, reverberant George Harrison echoes (which continue throughout) and waterfall vocal poetry of "Here Comes All The People." And Sisterworld never quits swinging; a most fascinating, palpably disturbing, keenly gorgeous album that appears different each time under the microscope. Not that any of their earlier albums slouches in terms of originality or artistic fire, but Sisterworld offers readier entry into Liars' alternate universe, where "reality" morphs and bubbles, scars and seduces, catalyzes and soothes – genuinely dangerous ground that's simply too intense and compelling to resist exploring. It will be quite some time before cartography is completed, even for the most zealous, attentive mapmakers. (DC)

Ralph Towner/Paolo Fresu: Chiaroscuro (ECM)
Multi-instrumentalist Ralph Towner is just as essential to the fabric of the ECM jazz idiom as the likes of Keith Jarrett, John Abercrombie and Jan Garbarek. For his 20th release on the legendary imprint, the Northwest great introduces an intriguing new dichotomy to the duo format with this gorgeous collaboration for trumpet and guitar with master Sardinian horn player Paolo Fresu. With Towner playing classical, 12-string and baritone guitars alongside Fresu on trumpet and flugelhorn, Chiaroscuro (released March 16) offers ten haunting compositions, including a rendition of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue standard "Blue in Green" and revisions of two older Towner numbers, "Zephyr," written for his celebrated acoustic jazz band Oregon featured on their 1987 album Ectopia, and "Wistful Thinking" from 1992's solo LP Open Letter. This is late night modality at its finest, and an early candidate for jazz record of the year. (RH)

Rogue Wave: Permalight (Brushfire)
Jaunty, jaundiced and jubilant, the latest from Oakland, CA's Rogue Wave is a strangely happy (emphasis on the strange) affair. Even if "the future ain't what it used to be" (as they declare on "Good Morning"), this puts the spotlight on the now, finding comfort inside the folds of a lover's hair or other pinpoint examples of all there is to taste and feel around us. Birthed from the pains brought on by a serious 2008 health scare for main man Zach Rogue, Permalight (released March 2) is pop with brains that doesn't diminish what one must struggle through to find their smile. Musically, Rogue and creative partner multi-instrumentalist Pat Spurgeon have never sounded more curious or well rounded, and the tunes seep into one like cool water on dry soil. Like Crowded House (or really anything Neil Finn touches), today's Rogue Wave makes one shake & bop without feeling dirty about the grin & skip they've just been given. (DC)

Archie Bronson Outfit: Coconut (Domino)
One of the most slept-on bands in English rock makes a bold return in 2010 after a four-year hiatus with its biggest, best record to date. Produced with love by Tim Goldsworthy (UNKLE, Cut Copy, The Rapture), Coconut (arriving March 23) finds the DFAlink text czar adding a gratuitous amount of programmed beats and loops to the chaotic cool of the Wiltshire trio's acid garage blues flavor, giving much of the album a feel akin to the sound of A Certain Ratio had when they signed to Touch & Go instead of Factory Records. Then, all of a sudden, you have a song like "Hunt You Down," which just drops out of the sky amidst the cacophony to offer a scraggy loveliness that recalls something straight out of Village Green Preservation Society as performed through the amp of Thurston Moore. A welcome return, Coconut is definitely is NOT your daddy's British blues rock. (RH)

The Whigs: In The Dark (ATO)
"Shock me into town/ Everybody wants to take me down/ White light in my brain/ If they want to make me sane." There's a bunch of winning chips on The Whigs' shoulders; an innate defiance and rough fingered sexual grip that strongly ties them to rock's earliest days. However, the presentation here, helmed by producer Ben H. Allen (Animal Collective, Gnarls Barkley), is slicker and more upfront than predecessor Mission Control. This saps some of their primal character but also sets them up for wider discovery outside the constant giging and musical chairs tour partners they've experienced in the past couple years. In The Dark (released March 16) is insanely listenable and particularly enjoyable at high volumes, and there's no shortage of killer, foundational rockers ("Someone's Daughter," "In The Dark") and curious curves ("Dying," "Naked") lurking in the folds. While this feels overall less distinct than Mission Control, it's still a better rock block than most of their peers can muster. (DC)

Daughters: Daughters (Hydrahead)
On their excellent eponymous third full-length (released March 9), these Providence, RI noisecore upstarts move further away from the chaotic grind of their earlier efforts and closer to something more song-oriented but no less brutal. The sound here is closer to the feel of classic Unsane or the nervy heaviness of such great '80s acts as Rapeman and Scratch Acid, as guitars scale up walls of relentless, fuzzed-out rhythms like centipedes and frantic melodies can be heard beneath the din of caustic riffs that stop, start and explode with the calculated precision of vintage post-punk. These Daughters will definitely keep your van rockin' all night long. (RH)

jj: jj nº 3 (Secretly Canadian)
How music can be elusive and intoxicating all at once is a mystery but one Sweden's jj have mastered. jj nº 3 (released March 9) is R&B from a distant future stripped of mainstream bombast, a sincerely lovely mingling of electronica's disembodied swoon, a more benign My Life In The Bush of Ghosts and the precise execution and romance of early rock 'n' roll vocal groups like The Platters. It's a pretty dizzying quiet storm, and it makes total sense that jj is currently sharing stages with fellow lower case advocates The xx. (DC)

cliffordandcalix: Lost Foundling (Aperture)
Attention fans of IDM (intelligent dance music): Behold! Lost Foundling (released March 16) is a collection of songs stemming from the creative partnership of Warp acts Mark Clifford from the recently reunited London glitch-gaze outfit Seefeel and former label publicist-turned-digital chanteuse Mira Calix. Recorded over several hangout sessions during the height of the IDM phenomenon (1999-2004), these recently rediscovered songs exhibit an excellent marriage, where Clifford's airy guitar lines blend into Calix's tiny laptop symphonies. It's crazy to think these were just casual sketches nearly lost on ancient computer technology, and the fact these tracks have now been made available for public consumption is reason to celebrate. (RH)

The Bird and The Bee: Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall and John Oates (Blue Note)
Another sign that the mega-success of Norah Jones has forever altered the makeup of Blue Note Records, this tongue-half-in-cheek Hall & Oates covers collection (arriving March 23) is pleasant and sure to please those who purchase their music with a latte. The duo of multi-instrumentalist/producer Greg Kurstin and singer Inara George (daughter of the late Little Feat fireball Lowell George) manages a fair amount of sincerity here, though their slim arrangements and somewhat dated keyboard sounds often make this sound like a distaff Erasure. But, the songs are nigh indestructible, and if you like the softer side o' pop (and Hall & Oates in particular) you're probably gonna dig this. (DC)

Title Tracks: It Was Easy (Ernest Jenning)
Washington D.C.'s music scene has long inspired a D.I.Y mentality spanning from Duke Ellington to Fugazi's Ian MacKaye. Barack Obama said, "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." D.C musician John Davis seems to follow his capital city's musical forefathers and that presidential mantra. In the last quarter century he watched two bands fold under his watch. Out of the ashes of these previous experiences has risen It Was Easy (released February 23), the debut full-length album from Davis' new band Title Tracks. Since Davis developed a multitude of skills not only playing drums in the famed D.C. dance-punk band Q And Not U but also manning dual roles as the guitarist-singer in the softer pop band Georgie James, he moved on to writing and recording an album on his own. The results draw on Davis' past and is filled with expertly crafted power pop that recalls the mod revival sounds of the Small Faces, as well as the vibe of mid-60s Yardbirds. One standout on It Was Easy is "Black Bubblegum," whose upbeat anthem and catchy chorus are reminiscent of something from fellow Ernest Jenning label mates Black Hollies. Another standout is one of the album's two covers, a slow burning duet with Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura on Bruce Springsteen's "Tougher Than The Rest." (Jake Krolick)

The Souljazz Orchestra: Rising Sun (Strut)
Hey, I love Afrobeat as much as the next guy, but this seemingly continuous barrage of African-related releases is getting to be a little much, don't you think? If you are like me and love the funky sounds of the Dark Continent but would like to hear it switched up a touch, look no further than the great new album from Canada's Souljazz Orchestra. Rising Sun (released February 16) finds the Ottowa, Ontario-based septet retaining the heavy Fela vibe that punctuated their previous efforts, but accenting the polyrhythms with the deep spirituality of vintage Impulse Records acts like Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp, bringing their craft to a whole new plane of expressionism. They even deliver a potent cover of Sanders' deep 1981 epic "Rejoice" just to show they're not playing around here. (RH)

Vintage Stash Pick of the Week
Jan & Dean: Carnival of Sound (Rhino Handmade)

When Jan Berry of the famous Southern California pop duo Jan & Dean smashed his Corvette into a parked truck going around Dead Man's Curve in 1966, he and partner Dean Torrence were in the embryonic stages of creating a new album they had dubbed Carnival of Sound. And despite Berry's serious injuries, which included partial paralysis and a traumatic brain injury, Jan refused to give up on the LP, returning to the studio months after the crash with a batch of songs that would reflect a deeper, more experimental nature reflecting the teen idol's post-accident mindset. Though still undeniably catchy and pure in its pop form, the music captured at these sessions, which incorporated such elements as sitar accents, backwards guitar playing, found sound effects and Wall of Sound style orchestration, reflected the psychedelic vibes of the burgeoning Sunset Strip scene that rendered the duo's shiny, happy sounds all but obsolete. Sadly, by the time Carnival of Sound was ready for its 1969 release, the duo's label, Warner Bros., had shelved the project, allowing it to build up its legend as one of the all-time great "lost" albums of rock ‘n' roll. That is until now. Beautifully packaged and remastered, this definitive official version of Carnival of Sound features the complete mono album as it was intended for its initial street date, along with stereo mixes and some of Berry's initial demos and alternate mixes of such key original tracks as "Girl, You're Blowing My Mind" and "Laurel and Hardy." You can really hear Jan Berry's absolute mastery as a producer on par with the likes of Phil Spector and David Axelrod – along with his capable utilization of such legendary Hollywood studio spaces as Gold Star Studios and Western Recorders and the world famous elite session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew – on their heart-piercing version of The Five Satins' "In The Still of the Night." Here, Jan and Dean transplant the doo-wop classic from the streets of the Bronx to the beaches of the Pacific Ocean. It's as if it had originated amidst a backdrop of surf and sunset all along, and unless you have a heart of ice it will stop you dead in your tracks. Any fan of pure pop music - be it The Beatles, Big Star or the Beach Boys - owes it to his or her self to look into checking out this resurrected masterpiece stat. (RH)

Damin Eih, A.L.K. and Brother Clark: Never Mind (Nero's Neptune)
When it comes to private press psychedelia from the Vietnam era, it doesn't quite get much trippier than Minneapolis-based sound wizards Damin Eih, A.L.K. and Brother Clark. Though they sold it as "folk," this trio was as much folk as the Soft Machine were jazz, as their lone 1973 epic signifies. Coming off like a combination of Love's Forever Changes without the strings and Jimmy Page's unreleased soundtrack to Lucifer Rising, Never Mind - originally released on the tiny Seedy Records and has been remastered via two virgin copies of the original vinyl – is an oscillating, Mooged-out, electric-acoustic mind-melt of an album that's been coveted by the world's most discerning collectors of rare psychedelic music. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you are a frequent visitor to the ever-migrating blog of master psych rock archivist Chris Goes. (RH)

The Guess Who: So Long, Bannatyne/Rockin' (Iconoclassic)
"Jim Morrison is a drunken buffoon posing as a poet," proclaimed Philip Seymour Hoffman in his spot-on role as legendary rock critic Lester Bangs in Almost Famous. "Give me The Guess Who. They have the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic." Whether or not the actual Lester B. uttered such brilliance, truer words have never been spoken with regards to a band whose catalog goes way beyond that of "These Eyes" and "American Woman." If you haven't touched upon The Guess Who's catalog beyond the obvious singles, these killer reissues of the Canadian band's two most underrated albums ought to give you ample reason to spelunk deeper into their oft-misunderstood oeuvre. 1971's Bannatyne, the group's second release following the departure of guitarist Randy Bachman (who went on to form the AOR hit machine Bachman Turner Overdrive) sees frontman Burton Cummings exercising his then-obsession with the John Lennon Plastic Ono Band album to excellent effect, starkly illustrating the pain and exhaustion of a band on the brink of an implosion. 1972's Rockin', the group's last with Bachman replacement guitarist Greg Leskiw, is also the GW's heaviest set to date, combining Cummings' love of '50s rock with the gritty sounds of Nixon-era Camaro psychedelia, and serves as a big favorite amongst the band's most hardcore fan base. After years of floundering in a horrible-sounding two-fer version, it's great to see this pair of Canadian rock classics get the top-notch remastering job each so richly deserves. (RH)

Various Artists: Brazilian Guitar, Fuzz Bananas: Tropicália Psychedelic Masterpieces 1967-1976 (Tropicália in Furs)
Brazilian Tropicália is one of the most beloved and revered psychedelic movements to emerge from the late 1960s. And underneath the din of such titans of this historic art movement as Tom Zé, Os Mutantes, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso was a whole underground bubbling with the funkiest, freakiest offshoots of the genre. Compiler Joel Stones' Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas (released February 23) is a South American version of Lenny Kaye's Nuggets, in a way, as it brings together 16 of Tropicália's rarest 45s loaded with distorted, wah-wah drenched guitars, phaseshifting organs and a sampler's smorgasbord of nasty breakbeats, including some wild covers of The Beatles' "I Wanna Be Your Man", The Rolling Stones' "The Lantern" and the theme to the Batman TV show. Anyone who ever wanted to get into Tropicália but was turned off by the flowery circus music vibe will definitely want to peel into these fuzzed-out Bananas. (RH)

Oops, We Missed It!
Killer Releases From 2009 That Somehow Slipped By Us

All Smiles: Fall Never Fell (Small Aisles)
The succinctness of a good EP can rival a good full-length simply by leaving us hungry for more of what we've just gobbled down. This five-pack (released November 17, 2009) carries wonderful echoes of '60s gentle pop and primo '80s New Zealand jangle, each given fresh intimacy and bedroom immediacy by Jim Fairchild. This set is the ideal score for wistful, post-romance thinking and bucolic summer afternoon drives. All Smiles is one of the few acts producing music on par with vintage Bee Gees, though this swoon is his own and not some homage. The title tune is perfection itself, despite the EP ending studio chatter to the contrary. Fall Never Fell is destined for mix tapes people give to one another to show they understand a few things and still want to put their hand in yours. (DC)

[Published on: 3/21/10]

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